By Diana Bowley of the Bangor Daily News: DEXTER - The cold gripped Anna Lisa Fournier's body late Saturday night, despite the extra layer of warmth provided by the thick blanket that covered her.
Fournier, who was "homeless" for the night, had peeled off her wet socks and draped them on a nearby woodpile while she sat on the ground and warmed her naked feet near a barrel fire at Wayside Park in Dexter.
"Mmm, the fire feels good," Fournier said to the other "homeless" huddled near the barrel. Some extended their hands over the flames, hoping for warmth before they retired to their cardboard boxes for the night.
In "Welcome to My Home," a 14-hour event, Fournier and 61 other Dexter Regional High School students spent the night in a shantytown of makeshift homes of cardboard, garbage bags and sticks to raise funds and bring awareness to the plight of the homeless.
Sponsored by the Dexter Regional High School Key Club and Student Council, the students were allowed only one blanket, one cup of soup, and water through the night. They had the use of a portable toilet.
Participants in the event, which included members of the football and soccer teams, cheerleaders and the two sponsoring organizations, raised $4,000 to be divided among Manna Inc., the local food cupboard, Shaw House and Womancare. The students also collected toiletries and blankets for the latter two organizations.
Student organizer Rebecca Fick, who was assisted by teacher and Key Club adviser Rick Whitney, was pleased with the outcome and said she hoped it would become an annual event.
"We've been talking about it for two years and wanted to do it with another Key Club, but we never got it together," Fick said. Instead, the Student Council and the Key Club joined forces.
"It's been a real community effort," Whitney said Saturday. Area stores donated cardboard, soup and supplies, and parents and teachers served as chaperones.
Throughout the night, friends and relatives stopped by to observe the "homeless" community. Among them were Dick and Marilyn Billodeau of Dexter whose grandson Corbin Billodeau was a participant.
"I think it's a wonderful thing for the kids" to learn the plight of those less fortunate, Dick Billodeau said.
Stew Kenney of Dexter, a chaperone and father of Jana Kenney, a participant, said any awareness of what is around the students is great.
For Whitney, who greeted students as they arrived, it was "exciting" to see the students set up their temporary homes. "It's gonna look like Hooverville before the night is over," he said. Hooverville was a name given to shantytowns that arose during the Great Depression.
As the temporary shelters were constructed, laughter pealed through the night air. Under the greenish tint from a park vapor lamp, Nathan Peirce and Chris Eastman joked as they reassembled 11 boxes taped together with eight rolls of duct tape for their rather large "riverfront" home. The top was covered with a garbage bag that came in handy when it rained early Sunday morning.
Cody Caron and Michael Rosetti said they were so poor they couldn't afford the cardboard, so they intended to bunk for the night on and under a park bench.
The joking stopped when the cold night settled in. The park became quieter, the mood turned somber, and the true lessons began.
"Being homeless is not a campout," Randy Libby, 43, a homeless man, told the students. Everybody is one paycheck, one disaster, or one health care step away from the streets, he said Saturday.
Libby, who had asked to speak to the students after reading about the event, told them that at least three of them would be on the streets by age 21. If they find themselves in that situation someday, Libby urged, they should seek help from a friend or relative.
Chris Betts, Shaw House program manager of outreach, credited the students for their efforts. "This is great. We need more attention to the homeless population."
Betts said the kids he sees on the streets are getting younger. It is not unusual to find children ages 14 to 16 on the street because their parents are on drugs or are alcoholics, he said.
Betts told the students that when they crawled into their cardboard boxes that night, to get the true feeling of homelessness they needed to block out their friends and imagine they were alone at Wayside Park.
While Betts and Libby's comments were sobering, it was during the actual overnight itself that reality sank in.
"It's a lot worse than it looks," Fournier said early Sunday morning after five hours of sleep. "I put on layers of clothes and I was still cold."
Rebecca Fick said she, too, was cold during the night. "I slept a little," but not comfortably. "I'm so thankful I don't have to do this tomorrow night."
"The hardest thing was dealing with the cold," student Matt Blake said. "It gives you a whole new appreciation. I always knew it was hard
living outside. You just don't know how hard it is until you have to do it."
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